Participation of adolescent girls in a study of sexual behaviors: balancing autonomy and parental involvement

J Pediatr Adolesc Gynecol. 2009 Apr;22(2):105-10. doi: 10.1016/j.jpag.2007.12.005.


Study objective: The process of research with adolescents should balance parental involvement and adolescent autonomy. The attendance of parents and peers at research study visits of girls participating in a 6-month study of topical microbicide acceptability is described, as well as the participants' conversations with their parents.

Methods: Girls, 14 through 21 years, were recruited from previous studies (3%), advertisements (14%), clinics (17%), and recommendations by friends (66%) to participate. Girls under 18 years were required to have parental consent, but parents could provide verbal phone consent as long as a signed consent form was returned before participation.

Results: The 208 participants were 41% African-American, 30% Hispanic, and 29% Caucasian. Girls averaged 18 years of age, and 95 (46%) were under 18. Seventeen percent of parents attended the first visit; only 1 parent attended with a daughter older than 18 years of age. The mothers of older adolescents were less likely to attend the appointment with them. More Caucasian than African-American girls came with a mother. Parental attendance decreased at follow-up visits. Thirty-seven percent of girls brought a peer to the first visit; there were no age or race/ethnic differences. There was no relationship between attending with a parent or peer and talking to a parent about the study. Some adolescents obtained parental consent to participate in the study while keeping their sexual behaviors private.

Conclusions: Parental attendance at study visits may not be marker of parental involvement with the study. Creative ways for balancing concerns about confidentiality, promotion of autonomy, and adult involvement should be considered.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • African Americans
  • Clinical Trials as Topic*
  • Female
  • Hispanic or Latino
  • Humans
  • Parents*
  • Sexual Behavior*
  • Whites